Example Image

E nvironmental Health & Medicine


Spring 2010

Instructor: Susan Allen-Gil   E-mail: sallen@ithaca.edu
Office: 253 Center for Natural Sciences   Office hours:
Phone: 274-1066     Monday, Wednesday 1:00-2:00 or by appointment


This course discusses a variety of environmental vectors of disease (air, food, drinking water and liquid and solid wastes), routes of exposure (occupational, residential and environmental), physiological effects and techniques to diagnose, treat and regulate environmentally-induced diseases.  Additional topics include recent advances in epidemiology, biological monitoring, and risk assessment.  The course adopts a highly interdisciplinary and applied approach.  Information from several scientific disciplines (molecular biology, physiology, pharmacology, toxicology, organic and inorganic chemistry) will be integrated with social and political considerations through analysis of risk assessment as a public policy tool.  The applied nature of the course will take the form of a risk assessment evaluation, mock physician clinics using real case studies in environmental medicine, and guest lectures.

Textbook and readings assignments:

Unfortunately, there is not a complete, concise textbook on the subject of environmental health and medicine.  The selected required text contains the majority of the information that we will cover, but it can be difficult to read.  Two other excellent reference texts, designed (and priced) more for practicing physicians, cover a wider range of topics in more detail.  These books are in the reference section of the library.

  1. Brooks, S.M. Environmental Medicine, Mosby Publishers, St. Louis, MO. 780 p.
  2. Rom, W.N. Environmental and Occupational Medicine, 3rd edition, 1998, Lippincott-Raven, Philadelphia, PA, 1880 p.
  3. Philp, R.B.  1995.  Environmental Hazards and Human Health, CRC Press, 306 p.

Goals and Rules

The goals of this course are:

  1. to provide students with a broad background in the area of environmental health and medicine,
  2. to provide the opportunity to explore areas of interest in greater depth,
  3. to develop an appreciation for the importance of scientific data and its use in public policy, and
  4. to familiarize students with the investigative techniques used in environmental medicine.  
Although a fair amount of memorization of material will be required, the emphasis of the course will be on the application and synthesis of course material.

Attendance Policy:  Class attendance is expected.  Class participation, as evaluated by attendance and contribution to in-class exercises, constitutes 10% of your grade.  If you miss class, you are still responsible for any assignments announced and for all material presented during class.  Although some of the lecture material is available through a course web page, it will be very difficult to get a grade better than a C in the course without attending class consistently.

Missing a test during an unexcused absence will result in a zero grade for that test.  For an unexpected absence, you must notify me before the test if at all possible.  If you are not physically capable to do so, then notify me within 24 hr. of the start of a test, You can phone my number or the Biology Department (274-3161) to leave a message.  Notification does not guarantee my acceptance of your reason for absence, but failing to notify me does guarantee that you will not be excused.

Accommodations: In compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, reasonable accommodation will be provided to students with documented disabilities on a case-by-case basis. Students must register with the Office of Academic Support Services and provide appropriate documentation to the College before any academic adjustment will be provided.

Learning Outcomes and Assessment

In taking this course, I expect you to gain the following:
1. knowledge of the principles of toxicology, pharmacology and risk assessment
a. assessed through quizzes and homework assignments

2. knowledge of the routes of exposure, mechanisms of action, diagnostic techniques and recommended treatment for common environmental agents
a.assessed through the final exam notes and oral

3. an understanding of the interface between science and policy in regulating environmental exposures

a. assessed through midterm and final exams

4. improved skills in written and oral communication in the sciences
a. assessed through student presentations, research paper, and mid term essay


Testing of material will be accomplished by a combination of quizzes, exams, homework, and essay assignments.  There will be a quiz every week covering the previous 2 weeks of course material.  Each quiz will be worth 10 points, and the lowest quiz grade will be dropped before averaging the remaining quiz grades.  The midterm will be an essay exam.  The final will be a one-on-one discussion with me, based on your notes.   Other elements of the evaluation include a research paper discussing a specific environmental health incident (or issue) (see Blackboard), a risk assessment project, a synopsis document for contaminants discussed in class, and several homework assignments.

Quizzes (~7, drop lowest one): fill-in, short answer


Midterm Exam: essay


Research paper (10-15 pages): focused on an environmental exposure, also presented in class


Class participation: attendance, clinical sessions, and presentations


Homework assignments (~2): cluster busters, dose-response curves


Final Exam: (50% on notes, 50% on how well you know them)


Course Evaluations: 

Student input is highly valued and is important to maintain high quality instruction.  Course evaluations are mandatory.   The evaluation must be completed between May 3 and 5. The evaluation will be submitted to the Department Assistant. She will verify that you have submitted the form.  Once that has been checked, your identification will be removed and will not be printed with the comments.

Web Resource Links

Links for Homework Assignments
Project Greenskate:
Example ImageProject Greenskate: This homework assignment will give you an overview of environmental health and risk assessment.  You must turn in your answers to the questions under the risk assessment section, as well as your article for the newspaper summarizing the issue. The class code is sallengil#0. Be sure to start on this assignment early as it takes a while to figure it out!  You can save your work from one log-on to the next.

Data Analysis-Cigarette Smoke and Lung Development:
Example ImageCigarette Smoke and Lung Development This activity will require you to collect and analyze data on-line.

Risk Assessment:
In addition to using the Rish Assistant software on the computers in the Biology Computer Facility, you will need to consult the following site to answer the questions related to the scientific background behind the reference doses.
Example ImageEPA's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) -  IRIS is a database of human health effects that may result from exposure to various substances found in the environment.  The IRIS home page is brought to you by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its Office of Research and Development, National Center for Environmental Assessment.

Other useful links

Example ImageAgency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry - this is the home page for the federal Center for Disease Control's division responsible for toxic substances.  It contains new stories, health advisories, public health assessments and access to databases of hazardous substances.

Example ImageATSDR Public Risk Assessments - this will take you directly to the list of assessments from which the Risk Assessment Group Projects should be selected.

Example ImageEnvironmental Contaminants Encyclopedia - Compiled by the National Park Service, this web page provides access to detailed reports on fate, behavior, effects and levels of concern for 120 environmental contaminants.

Example ImageRisk Assessment as a Career - personal essay by an EPA Risk Assessor

Example ImageSociety of Toxicology This site provides excellent information about toxicology.

Example ImageUniversity of Arizona: The Biology Project: Chemicals & Human Health In addition to alot of useful information, this site provides tutorial exercises related to environmental health.

Some excellent sources for environmental updates:
Example ImageEnvironmental News Network
Example ImageEnvirolink News Service
Example ImagePlanetArk Environmental News

Visit the Biology Department home page. Visit the IC home page.

This page maintained by Susan Allen-Gil and Nancy Pierce
Last updated on 1/22/10